Donald Trump appeared to throw his running mate under the bus during Sunday night's debate, flatly disowning Mike Pence's policy on a major foreign policy issue — Syria.
"He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree," Trump said. "I disagree."
It was a striking moment of discord for a presidential ticket just four weeks before an election. But Pence now says it's much ado about nothing.
Pence told CNN on Monday morning that he wasn't thrown under the bus because it was all just one big misunderstanding. Trump disagreed with him, he said, because debate moderator Martha Raddatz flubbed his position.
"I've talked to him about our policy," Pence said Monday morning on CNN. "And frankly, I've got a lot of respect for Martha Raddatz, but she just misrepresented the statement that I made in my national debate, frankly."
But did she? Let's dig in.
Here's how Raddatz described Pence's position Sunday night (emphasis added):
Mr. Trump, let me repeat the question: If you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? And I want to remind you what your running mate said. He said provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength, and that, if Russia continues to be involved in airstrikes along with the Syrian government forces of [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.
And here's what Pence said at last week's debate:
And secondly, I just have to tell you that the provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength. And if Russia chooses to be involved and continue — I should say, to be involved in this barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime to prevent them from this humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Aleppo.
Raddatz's summary includes almost a word-for-word recounting of what Pence said, and Trump responded by saying he disagreed with it.
But Pence argued on CNN that she got the context wrong.
"The question I had — and you can check the transcript, so can your viewers — was about the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, and what we ought to do," Pence said, continuing: "Last night, she conflated that and referred to general provocation and involvement by the Russians in the Syrian regime. And, you know, Donald Trump's made it clear, our policy is safe zones for people suffering in Syria.”
Pence is right that he made his comment in response to a question about the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. But Raddatz's question to Trump was also clearly about the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. She begins by asking, "If you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo?" and then she summarizes what Pence said about it at the VP debate.
Trump may have thought Raddatz was talking more generally about Russian provocation in Syria, but the question was clearly about the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo.
What is also clear is that Trump seemed completely unfamiliar with his own running mate's position on this issue, and when he was presented with Pence's position basically word-for-word, he disagreed with it. Even if Raddatz wasn't completely iron-clad in her summary — and again, she appears to have been — Trump clearly was unprepared for this question on arguably the biggest foreign policy issue of the campaign (somehow).
In the end, it seems to be merely the latest example of Pence trying to mop up after Trump. And he's got at least four more weeks of it.